The second book of the Torah concludes with the end of Pekudei. As the final words are recited, the assembled call out hazak, hazak, ve-nithazek, be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened. Indeed, we say these words when completing each of the Five Books of Moses.
Most interpret these words to speak first to the individual, and then to the collective whole. Hazak is a singular term. When uttered twice it creates a sense of community. Hence, ve-nithazek – together we will gain greater strength and prevail.
However, if we examine the end of Genesis and Exodus, the first two places where we actually utter this phrase, a deeper understanding emerges. Genesis concludes with Joseph’s death. Exodus comes to a conclusion with the cloud of glory resting upon the newly finished Tabernacle.
A common thread can be seen. Both books conclude with endeavors left unfinished — left to be concluded by the next generation. When Joseph dies, slavery is about to begin — fulfillment of the covenant with our ancestors, in the form of redemption, comes many years later. Similarly the Exodus narrative ends with the Tabernacle just constructed, but the fulfillment of the use of the Tabernacle has not yet taken place. Not only has it not been used, but it serves as a blueprint for the ultimate House of God, the Holy Temple built many years later.
Note that the three other places where hazak is recited fall into the same pattern. Leviticus and Numbers end with laws of tithing and inheritance. Those laws are given, although they can only fully become a reality after possessing land in Israel, which occurs later. And, of course, Deuteronomy concludes with the death of Moshe. The irony of his life is that the greatest leader of our people never realized his greatest dream, to enter the land of Israel – a mission only to be achieved by those he left behind.
An important lesson emerges. Often, in life, we think that there is nothing we cannot accomplish. The culmination of each book teaches us—no. No one leaves the world fulfilling all of their dreams, all of their hopes and expectations. In the words of Rabbi Tarfon, it is not for any of us to complete the task (Avot 2:21).
The story is told of an elderly man who plants a carob tree. “Foolish man,” a passerby proclaimed, “why do you waste your time? Surely, you will not live long enough to see the tree produce.” The old man sighed and responded, “My father planted trees for me and I, in turn, must plant trees for my children.”
Notwithstanding that no one can fully complete the task, Rabbi Tarfon adds that we are not free from doing our share, from embarking on our goals with our utmost energy and strength. This in fact, may be the deeper meaning of the refrain: first we proclaim hazak hazak—be strong, be strong, let us each make sure to do our share, knowing all along that we will not complete every goal.
But then, we call out together, ve-nithazek, may we be strengthened in the recognition that together, our task be concluded, even if it takes generations to make it a reality.
With this in mind, I suggest that this week, and every other occasion that we complete a book of the Torah, we take a moment of pause to recognize that as we surround the Torah, that we appreciate the gifts of the generations that proceeded us. At the same time, we should hold our children close in the prayer that they continue the mission of our people and Torah.